Business education nowadays is more globalised than ever. Physical boundaries no longer exist and it is natural to be on a different continent within a 24-hour period. There is no barrier to living in Europe, studying in the US and managing a business in Asia.
US universities are generally fairly US-focused, while the MBA programmes offered by European and Asian business schools are quite internationalised, as some 90% of the class comprises students of different nationalities.
All this makes the choice of exactly where, and in fact on what continent, to study an MBA a complex matter. As this is a decision you only make once in your life, it should not be a one-sided choice.
Choosing the original
The US is the homeland of the MBA programme. The first MBA was launched in 1908 by Harvard Business School. Since then, hundreds of MBA programmes have emerged, attracting students from all over the world. For years, the programme has been considered as one of the means to achieving the American dream.
The typical US MBA programme lasts two years. During the first year, the core phase, students learn the essentials of management; while in the second year, the specialisation phase, they can choose from a broad range of electives, conduct a supervised business consulting project with other students or take on an placement.
The US, as the MBA pioneer, has deep roots in the world's business education scene, its long history and traditions and it is no surprise that US schools top most of the various ratings of MBA programmes worldwide. In two separate business school rankings – the Financial Times (FT) and The Economist – despite differences in methodology, US top schools dominate.
Another distinct advantage of US schools is their facilities. Sleek computer rooms full of Mac desktops, extensive sports facilities for those who wish to keep in form, academic and interest-centred school societies with their own premises, large campuses and open courtyards: America has it all.
Choosing to go to the States means choosing the American way. Getting an education in a country which has held the title of "strongest economy in the world" has its advantages. In a market of more than 300 million people, getting to learn the culture and the way Americans do business can be beneficial to those wanting to stay and make a career in the US after graduation.
The first European MBA programme emerged half a century after its US cousin. Since then, European programmes have been gaining popularity, attracting students from all over the world. In fact, since the launch of the first MBA on the Old Continent, European business schools have been fast catching up to their US peers.
Certainly there are differences between the MBA programmes offered by US and European schools. In Europe, the typical programme is shorter than the two-year programme in the US, and classes in Europe are smaller, with fewer than 150 students on average, while US classes have close to 300.
But the biggest difference is that European schools have a significantly higher percentage of non-national students. Europe is multicultural. Many nations share the continent, each with its own language, culture, worldview and traditions. People can travel between countries within a short time, making cross-cultural exchange very active. Precisely due to this natural advantage of Europe, many business schools make effective use of this diversity, focusing on the international and multicultural aspects of their MBA programmes.
Jamie Manuel, a member of the 2014 MBA class at Saïd Business School, says: "In my admissions essay to Oxford University's Saïd Business School, I wrote: "To fix the developing [health] issues in America in an innovative and creative way, I must surround myself with individuals holding different world views and unique outlooks that challenge my current perspective." He adds that "To learn the skills required for a global economy, leaders need immersion and experience. These cannot be learned from a book or staring at a computer screen."
Studying an MBA in Europe has another big plus: the return on investment of an MBA from a European business school is higher than peer MBA programmes in US or Asian schools. Furthermore, European MBAs are typically one year. Programmes require a smaller budget compared to MBAs on other continents – firstly because of the lower tuition fees and secondly because of the reduced amount needed for living and other expenses.
Different cultures meet every day on the Asian continent as well. Asian developing markets and robust economic development over the past decade has provided space for qualified top managers to strengthen business positions in the Asian markets. The economic boom of the region creates a need for business leaders familiar with the specifics of local cultures in Asia. Asian business schools offer global business perspectives on management but it is the regional experience of Asia that contributes to their uniqueness.
"You gain global perspective on management issues, applied to the Asian context. This knowledge will help you smoothly navigate globalised, multicultural work environments," says
Professor Nilanjan Sen, associate dean of graduate studies at the Singapore-based Nanyang Business School.
Following global economic trends, European and US schools are increasingly looking to establish partnerships with local universities on joint MBA courses, opening campuses and including exchange programmes with Asian universities in their MBA curricula. Nowadays, local candidates no longer need to leave Asia to get a good MBA.
Undoubtedly, studying an MBA in Asia will distinguish you from other graduates. If only because, having studied in Asia, you have a better understanding of the culture of doing business in the growing Asian market.
If globalisation is your mindset and you want a more internationalised approach, you should focus your efforts on admission to a European business school. If you share the American dream ethos, then the US is the place to go. And if you are an innovative thinker seeking to explore the unexplored and live the exotic lifestyle of the East, Asia is the destination for you. Choices for business education are abundant, but location is not actually the most important criterion. An MBA degree is both a lifetime achievement, and a lifetime investment. MBA education does not have frontiers. Its global outreach is designed to get you wherever you want to go next, and its respected stature will be of benefit throughout your entire career.